03-30-2012, 05:11 PM
It had gone well.
JD congratulated himself as he went over the sales figures from the fan club records. His intervention plan had proven successful. By presenting a unified front he had prevented his impetuous younger brother from certain death. His only regret was that he didn't think of it sooner when Criss performed that hotel demolition stunt in Florida. Come to think of it, he was sorry he didn't think of it when Criss began performing in the first place. Oh, well, at least they talked him out of going into that mine shaft; that, at least, was something for which to be thankful.
His sense of self-satisfaction gradually gave way to concern. Would Criss go back on his word? He knew that he had been reluctant to give up his idea of the mineshaft demonstration, but JD was confident, or at least hopeful, that his brother was mature enough to realize that his family and friends cared about him to the point of confronting him like they did and forcing him to honor his promise. If not, then it would be good-bye Vegas for all of them. If Criss would not keep his side of the bargain, JD and the family would. He would take his mother, his wife and his daughter back to New York, never to return to the Southwest--ever. It was a harsh measure for such a close-knit family as his, but as the de facto male head of the Sarantakos clan, he had to draw the line somewhere for their sake. His poor mother couldn't take the shock anymore, not after that heart scare a few years ago. Neither could he, for that matter: JD himself was almost fifty. True, he was in very good health and quite physically fit, but he felt working for his magician/escape artist brother was aging him prematurely; he blamed his greying hair more on Criss and his demonstrations than on age or genetics.
There, the sales figures were finished. JD set them aside and decided to call Criss and see how he was doing. He checked the time: ten-thirty AM. There would be a production meeting in the office that afternoon around one, he recalled. He hoped Criss would be over what happened that morning and settle down to work. If not, well, JD knew how to handle his recalcitrant little brother. Age had its privileges after all.
He dialed Criss' hotel room extension and waited for him to pick up. No answer after four rings. He disconnected and dialed his brother's cell phone number. It went straight to voicemail after the customary four rings. "Hey, Criss, this is JD," he spoke calmly. "Gimme a call when you get this. I just wanna know where you are and if you're all right, okay? We got a meeting at one here in the office, so don't be late. 'Bye."
JD hung up, a look of concern on his face. Where the hell was Criss? he wondered. Had he run off somewhere, or was he simply sulking in his room, refusing to answer the phone? If it was the former, okay, sure--a bit a fresh air would do Criss some good, clear his head. If it was the latter, however, well, JD would have to smack some sense into Little Brother's head. Still, he wondered where he could be.
Drive. Drive. Drive.
Criss forced himself to concentrate on that one word as he sped down the desert road in his Viper. He wanted--no, needed--to escape the Luxor, his family and his life. He still burned over what he felt was his family's interference in his career. It was bad enough that they ganged up on him like that, but to drag his girlfrend, Sandra, and Father Stefan into it as well was in his opinion hitting below the belt. He was relieved when they all left his suite; though his anger still smoldered, his conscience still needled him. He needed release, but how?
In desperation, he called for his Viper, the fastest car he owned, and drove away like a madman down the Boulevard and into the seclusion of the desert. He succeeded in putting the Luxor itself behind him, but he could not escape the swirling mass of emotions inside his soul. He tried in vain to shut out of his mind the humiliation of his family's intervention that morning, but no matter how far he drove, the voices of his family and friends followed him, refusing to be ignored.
This is it, Chris, this is the end! I can't take it anymore--none of us can! Either you scrap this demonstration, or I quit!
You promised me no more dangerous escapes, but you broke your promise again and again!
We won't be around when you get angry, because we won't be around at all! We'll all be heading back to New York, and you'll be on your own with your 'art' as company!
Sorry, Chris, but I'm siding with the majority here. Family comes first, you know.
Your mother loves you very much, Christopher...
I'm with JD and walking out on you.
You can't go on like this, Christopher! You've cheated death so many times, it's not even funny! You've been driving Mom into an early grave from all the worrying she'd done over you! And I can't count how many times you've nearly given me a frickin' heart attack from your crazy stunts!
Time and time again, I have watched you try to kill yourself for the sake of your 'art'. I can't take it anymore, Christopher Nicholas! I don't want to watch you die again and again and again! A parent should not have to outlive her child! I can't take it anymore! I can't take it anymore!
"I CAN'T TAKE IT ANYMORE!" Criss screamed as he swerved off the highway and into the desert, the Viper's tires shooting up clouds of dust and gravel in its wake. "I just can't (bleeping) take this (bleep) anymore!"
He sped through the desert, heedless of where he was going. He blinked back tears, forbidding himself to weep. He vowed to remain strong, to fight this thing, whatever it was, that was eating him up inside. He didn't care if he drove all the way to Mexico--so long as he had gas in the tank and his foot on the accelerator, he wasn't going to stop for anything, not for anything!
Except for the huge wall of rock looming up before him.
Panicked, Criss stomped on the brake pedal and twisted the steering wheel as far as it would go to the right, sending the Viper into a complete three-sixty spinout. The sleek black sports car came to a halt just inches from a collision into the rocky wall. Dirt and grit swirled around the Viper, coating its polished ebony surface with a layer of Nevada desert. Then, all was still again. Only the faint swish of a desert breeze could be heard, if anyone was around to hear it.
Criss let fly a loud four-letter expletive as he waited for his heart to resume its normal pace. He drew deep breaths, refilling his lungs with what little filtered air there was left in the Viper. Once he regained his composure, he pulled the latch on the driver's side door, opened it, and stepped out, ostensibly to check for any damage to the Viper, but more so to see where he was.
The dust had settled, giving him a clear view of his surroundings. As he looked around, he had a vague feeling of deja-vu, the sense he had been here before. He walked away from the Viper, still coated with desert dust, and began to explore the area, hoping to find a clue. He could see the tire tracks leading to the highway where he had made his impromptu detour, but he could find no familiar landmark to tell him his location. All he knew was that he was beside some sort of mountain or mesa, and that--
He stopped short before a jutting piece of rock sheltering a large hole in the wall. He examined it carefully, then a mental light went on in his head. Of course! He was at the Cave of Sorrow where he had met that weird Medicine Man character! He had vowed he would never return to the Cave after his last encounter with the enigmatic shaman, but he had come back out of sheer coincidence.
Or was it?
The Medicine Man had told him the Cave of Sorrow was a place for penitence, to reflect and atone for one's sins. Maybe he had been so guilt-ridden over the intervention that his unconscious mind led him here? No, he told himself firmly, it was just coincidence, that's all. He had been driving recklessly through the desert and ended up here by chance. To be unconsciously drawn here against his will was too creepy to think about.
Criss stood there by the Cave, the broiling Nevada sun beating down on his head. He had to do something, but what? Go back to the Luxor? That was the most sensible choice, but he just could not face returning home just yet, not after what happened that morning. Get back on the road and keep driving? He looked out onto the desert highway, and for the first time realized the futility of it all. He could not run away from his problems like this; sooner or later, he would have to deal with them. Then he looked down at the Cave of Sorrow. It was designed for reflection, so the Medicine Man told him, and it offered privacy that he seldom found outside his hotel suite. And it was better than being broiled alive out in the sun.
He got down on his hands and knees and crawled into the tiny cave. It was indeed cooler than outside, but the air was stuffy and stale. Nonetheless, he was determine to battle his personal demons inside this rock until he resolved to do whatever it was he needed to do. He positioned himself into his usual meditation pose--legs crossed, back straight, eyes closed--and emptied his mind of all thought. Sweat trickled down his face, but he did not reach up to wipe it away. It would have broken his concentration.
Soon he was in a deep trancelike state that could not be called sleep, but just as deep. He felt himself rising up out of the cave, light as a feather, and floating outward to--where? An astral plane? Another dimension? Heaven? It was hard to tell in the blurry whiteness that surrounded him; it was as if he was soaring through the clouds. Then the clouds parted, and he found himself in smoky darkness, the sound of chanting echoing in his ears.
He looked around and saw himself surrounded by leather supported by long, flexible wooden poles, with animal hides dangling from hooks like furry wallhangings. A fire in a small firepit of circled rocks lay crackling at his feet, the smoke rising through a hole in the roof. Criss deduced that he was in some sort of Indian lodge, but what was even more astonishing was who was in there with him: his mother, his brothers, his cousin George, his girlfriend Sandra, Father Stefan, Gerard, Banachek, and his manager, Dave. All sat in a grim circle around the fire, legs crossed, backs straight, waiting for something--or someone.
"What's the deal?" Criss could not help asking.
No one spoke. No one even looked at him. Then a new presence emerged into the smoky darkness, the figure of the Medicine Man, dressed in full shamanistic regalia: painted robe, beaded braids, and feathered staff. He met Criss' gaze with barely repressed indignation, and pointed his staff squarely at him. "You have offended," he intoned.
"Come again?" Criss muttered bemusedly.
"You have offended," the shaman repeated, still leveling the staff in Criss' face. "You have failed to honor your promise to your clan. Therefore, you have dishonored them. You have disgraced yourself in their eyes."
"Hey, now wait a minute!" Criss protested. "If this is about the mineshaft demonstration, I said I wouldn't do it!." He turned to his brother, JD, sitting beside him. "I tore up my notes, remember? You saw it yourself; you're a witness!"
No response. JD sat there like a statue, not moving, not speaking, not even blinking. Criss got down on his knees beside him. "JD?" he pleaded. "Say something!!"
Still no response. Criss turned to his mother. "Mom?" he cried. "Can you hear me?"
But she, too, was a statue, as were Costa, George, Sandra, and the others. With a rage born of fear, Criss turned on the Medicine Man. "What did you do to them?!" he screamed.
The shaman remained composed. "They cannot hear you nor speak with you," he said grimly. "They have banished you from their hearts and minds. It is your doing, not mine. You have offended them, therefore you are banished from them."
Criss swept his eyes over the stiff figures of his family and friends. "What can I do to get them back?" he pleaded. "I'll do anything, anything at all! You want money? I'll give you as much as you want! You name it, I'll do it! Just give me back my family!"
"It is not my doing," the Medicine Man repeated. "They have banished you from their hearts and minds because you have offended them. They will not speak to you, nor will they listen to you any longer. You are guilty, and this is their judgement against you."
The horror of being exiled from the family breast tore through Criss' soul, releasing a loud wail of agony. His scream was accompanied by a chorus of anguished cries from the very depths of Hell itself. He felt himself whisked away from the lodge in a cyclone, the wails of the damned mingling with the howling winds. Then a muscle spasm jolted him back into the real world, and he was back in the Cave of Sorrow, trembling and sweating harder than he had when he first entered. "Oh, my God!" he gasped, still shaking. "Oh, my God!"
He began to wonder if it had all been a dream. Could he have fallen asleep in here and dreamed it all? But it all seemed so real. He could still recall every detail of it: the lodge, the fire, the circle, right down to the animal pelts hanging from the walls. He had not only seen it, he had felt it, smelled it, heard it, experienced it as fully as he was sitting there. No dream of his had ever been that vivid. Maybe it had been a hallucination brought on by the stale air in the cave. But even that theory fell apart the minute he thought of it. It had been too real for him to imagine by any means.
Well, dream or hallucination, one thing was certain: he had to get out of that cave, get back home and start making amends before it was too late. Criss shot out of the tiny cave like a bullet from a gun and sped toward his dusty Viper. The hotel staff could handle the car wash, he thought. He had more important matters to attend to.
His first stop was the sanctified confines of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church to confide in Father Stefan about his experience in the Cave of Sorrow and his encounter with the Medicine Man. It was not his first visit there--indeed, he felt it was the only place left on earth where he could talk freely without fear of his deepest secrets being splashed all over the tabloids. The kindly priest sitting opposite listened patiently as Criss described his dream/vision/hallucination and what the ghostly shaman had told him. When he finished, Criss asked desperately, "Do you think I'm going nuts or something?"
Father Stefan shook his head. "No, Christopher, I don't think you are going 'nuts', as you say," he assured him. "I think it's a sign from God."
Criss was puzzled at such a claim. "Why would God send a Native American shaman to me?" he asked bemusedly. "It sounds kinda screwy, in my opinion. I mean, wouldn't God send an angel or something along that line?"
"Well, the Lord moves in mysterious ways His wonders to perform," Father replied.
"Yeah," Criss conceded, "but this takes the cake! I mean, why would a Christian God send a pagan Indian shaman to try to convert me?"
"Maybe the idea isn't as 'pagan' as you think."
"The idea of atonement for one's sins isn't solely a Christian one," Father explained. "I've studied many so-called 'pagan' religions, and they have many ways of dealing with it, some parallelling Christian tenets . Your Cave of Sorrow, for example: it utilized the concept of isolation for reflection. Some were outright banished or sent on pilgrimages. Today, we have the penal system where we isolate criminals from the rest of society so they can reflect on their offenses, at least in theory. In fact, the word 'penitentiary' comes from the word 'penitent', by the way; the modern prison was a Quaker invention designed for criminals to be alone with God and become penitent. Unfortunatly, it did more harm than good: prisoners in solitary confinement have been known to go insane from too much isolation. We're social beings, Christopher. We need people around us to feel safe and secure. Remember how you felt during your vision in the Indian lodge when the Medicine Man told you you were banished from the hearts and minds of your family? I know you, Chris--you couldn't survive without them."
"No," Criss admitted sorrowfully, "I couldn't."
"So let this serve as a lesson to you," Father Stefan concluded. "Consider your family's feelings whenever you hatch some harebrained stunt involving life and death. They want you to live a long and healthy life as well as a successful one. That means honoring your promise to your mother. Understand?"
Criss nodded feebly. Father Stefan, however, was not satisfied. He lifted Criss' face up by the chin with one finger. "Promise?" he pressed.
"Okay, I promise," Criss insisted.
Father Stefan nodded. "Good. Anything else you want to tell me?"
Criss thought about it. "Well, no, not really, except..."
"Well, it's just that before I found the Cave of Sorrow, I always believed the concept of pennance was just a Christian thing, you know? Being sorry for your sins, confessing, doing pennance, stuff like that--I thought only the Church came up with all that. Shows a lot I know," he sniffed.
The priest smiled. "Well, the concept of salvation through Jesus Christ is a Christian tenet, but the concept of sorrow for wrongdoing is as old as civilzation itself. As I said before, many ancient civilizations had ways of dealing with it. Besides, to regret one's sins is a sign of sanity in a person; it means knowing the difference between right and wrong, between good and evil. Without it, we're no better than the animals. Even primitive pagan cultures like the one your friend the Medicine Man belonged to knew it. That was why they had the Cave of Sorrow in the first place--for those members of the tribe to go to and do pennance for their sins. It appeased the consciences of its members, and helped to preserve law and order within the tribe itself. Get it?"
Criss nodded again, firmly this time. "I get it."
"Anything else you want to discuss?"
Criss shook his head. "No, not right now, Father," he said, checking his watch. "I got a production meeting this afternoon, and I know you're busy, too, so I guess I'll be going."
He rose to leave. Father rose with him. "I'm still stumped about what I'm going to do in place of the mine shaft demonstration," he said. "I have no idea what I'm going to do now."
Father Stefan patted Criss on the shoulder. "You'll think of something," he said confidently. "And if you don't, well, give me a call."
Criss looked at him in surprise. "You?"
The priest smiled. "I might have an idea or two up my sleeve," he said cryptically.
"Well, I'm glad you do," Criss retorted, "because I sure don't."
Again, the priest smiled. "You'll do fine, Christopher," he said. "Just remember your promise, that's all I ask."
"I'll remember, Father," Criss said. "I promise."
The priest and the magician shook hands, and the latter left, his heavy pendants jangling as he walked. Father Stefan returned to his office. Yes, he did have an idea for a demonstration for Christopher's show, though he had not worked out the details yet. In due time, he thought. In due time.
Last edited by Veritas; 03-30-2012 at 05:23 PM.